New York City Guide

While New York City covers just 300-plus square miles, with 8.6 million residents, it is America’s most populous city. Rents, co-ops, condos and property values are sky-high. So, from a cost-of-living perspective, New Yorkers give up a lot of space and comfort to call the city home. Throw a notoriously competitive job market into the mix and the going for many can certainly get tough.  

Still, to paraphrase a famous song lyric, “If you can make it there, you can make it anywhere.” That’s a big part of the city’s attraction. And while that famous “New York attitude” may rub you the wrong way at first, underneath their tough exteriors, the city’s residents are some of the most loyal friends you’ll ever make. They’re just particularly keen about protecting what limited personal space they have. 

New York City’s neighborhoods are rich with history, each a microcosm of the cultural landscape. Amid all the loud, crowded streets, there are pockets of tranquility, world-class museums and an amazing theater scene — on top of a dazzling skyline that’s second to none.

It’s a place where generations of people have come to make their mark. It’s a place you’ll grow to love. It’s also so unique that you’ll end up comparing it to everyplace else you’ve lived or ever will live.  

Where to Get a Culture Fix in New York

New York City is the birthplace of Harlem jazz, abstract expressionism (“the New York School”) in painting; The Brill Building sound and, of course, hip hop. As just about everyone knows, it’s a regular setting for movies, TV series and novels. Just a shot of the skyline and you know exactly where you are. 

For culture vultures, New York City is tough to beat. From Museum Mile on Manhattan’s Upper East Side to the Noguchi Garden in Queens, BAM in Brooklyn, the botanical gardens in the Bronx and the Smithsonian-affiliated Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island, all five boroughs have something to offer. The above are a few top-of-the-mind suggestions; but there’s something to suit just about everyone’s tastes and interests.  

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Things You Can Only See and Experience in New York

New Yorkers love celebrating and there’s nothing more festive than the pomp, circumstance, and giant balloons at Macy’s annual Thanksgiving Day Parade – or the city’s equally spectacular fireworks display every July 4. On October 31, people come from all over the world to watch or be part of the Halloween parade in the West Village. There’s also a New Year’s Eve bash in Times Square, the “Crossroads of the World.” Not a fan of crowds? Steer a wide berth on this particular one. 

Something else that’s absolutely unique about New York City is the single fare system for local Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) buses and the entire subway system. Ride as far as you like and it won’t cost you more than $2.75 — and it’s even cheaper if you’re over 65, have a disability or buy a multi-ride pass. The single fare strategy was — and is — a major driver of economic growth, since office workers residing in the outlying boroughs aren’t charged more to get in and out of Manhattan.   

There’s only one largest cathedral in the world and it’s here in Upper Manhattan. Construction on the Cathedral of St. John the Divine began in 1892 and continues to this day. It’s well worth visiting, regardless of your religious convictions. 

The fabled canyons of Wall Street are a world unto their own. The New York Stock Exchange and AMEX are literally beehives of activity. They used to offer tours; these days, chances are you can find someone with the “pull” to get you on the floor, if only for a moment or two. 

Because it’s so compact, New York is a great place to cross paths with celebrities. However, anything other than a quick nod is likely to be frowned upon. Like the rest of New Yorkers, celebs value their personal space and consider fawning or gushing over them to be a breach of local etiquette. If you feel compelled to say something, just briefly thank them for doing whatever it is they do. 

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Where to Get Outdoors in New York

Dedicating 14% of its land to green space, New York City’s parks are some of the world’s most graceful and grand. The city’s park system spans over 30,000 acres and 1,942 sites across its five boroughs. Among them are more than 1,000 playgrounds, 800 athletic fields, 550 tennis courts, 60 public pools, and 30 recreation centers, so whatever your mood, you’re never far from an outdoor escape.  

Just about everyone has at least heard of the “Big Two,” Central Park in Manhattan and Prospect Park in Brooklyn; however, here are some less-traveled green spaces where you can grab some fresh air and sunshine. 

A 172-acre island in New York Harbor, car-free Governors Island is an oasis reached via either the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street; or in Brooklyn (weekends only) at the Red Hook/Atlantic Basin, located at the intersection of Pioneer Street and Conover Street. Upon disembarking on the island, you’ll be met with a hammock grove, public art and seven miles of biking trails — not to mention some prime perches with skyline views., either in Lower Manhattan at the Battery Maritime Building at 10 South Street or in Brooklyn, weekends only, at the Red Hook/Atlantic Basin, located at the intersection of Pioneer Street and Conover Street. Upon disembarking on the island, you’ll be met with a hammock grove, public art and seven miles of biking trails — not to mention some prime perches with skyline views. 

Occupying  more than a 1,000 acres atop the ridges and valleys of the northwest Bronx, Van Cortlandt Park  features the boroughs’ largest freshwater lake. It’s also where you’ll find the 1.5-mile John Muir Trail, which intersects a forest of sweetgum, red oak and tulip trees; a marsh emanating with the sound of croaking frogs; Croton Woods, with its hickory and sugar maple trees; and the rolling hills of the  Northwest Forest. 

The Bronx is one of the city’s greenest boroughs and the 25-mile Bronx River Greenway is among its most treasured corridors. Meandering along the city’s only freshwater river, it takes you through Concrete Plant Park, Hunts Point Riverside Park, Soundview Park and Bronx Park, the latter home to the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Gardens. Hit the Bronx River trails to traverse a floodplain forest, pausing at lookouts to view towering silver maples, tulip poplars and American sycamores. As you cross Burke Bridge, keep watch for double-crested cormorants, red-tailed hawks and wood ducks — they’re among the many species that call the area home. 

Occupying more than three times the acreage of Manhattan’s Central Park, Pelham Bay Park is the city’s largest. Featuring bridle paths and hiking trails, it also features two golf courses, the Bartow-Pell Mansion and 13 miles of saltwater shores that skirt Long Island Sound. Make your way to the Kazimiroff Nature Trail, which journeys around 189-acre Hunter Island, offering short and long loops through wetlands and interior forest to scenic, 115-acre Orchard Beach, the so-called “Riviera of New York,” with its arc of sand, central pavilion, promenade, playgrounds and picnic areas. 

Leave the bustle of the city far behind by entering Marine Park’s Salt Marsh Nature Trail behind the Marine Park’s Salt Marsh Nature Center). Harboring a proliferation of birds, fish, crabs and a vast array of wildlife, its numerous lookouts capitalize on idyllic views of species-rich grasslands and tidal wetlands. 

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Local Eats in New York

Among the dishes invented or claimed in New York are the Bloody Mary, the Waldorf Salad, the cronut, ice cream cones, the chef’s salad and the Reuben sandwich. Nowadays, $500 prix-fixe menus fit nicely alongside every kind of street food imaginable, from falafel and stromboli to cuchifritos; Ashkenazi Jewish fare; Italian-American eats; and floppy, New York-style slices. 

To be true New Yorker, skip tourist traps like Magnolia Bakery and Bubba Gump’s (and truthfully, 90% of the places in the Times Square or Theatre District) and head out for memorable meals at venues like these.  

Serving Southern helpings in Harlem since 1962, Sylvia’s is a must for chicken and waffles, saucy baby back ribs and fried catfish. Packed with regulars, its iconic comfort food has attracted locals, celebs and politicians for decades. That includes its rowdy Sunday brunch. 

Casual, compact and lively, Win Son in Brooklyn turns out unforgettable, contemporary Taiwanese-American fare from an unassuming, sit-down storefront in East Williamsburg. The musts? Lu rou fan, minced pork belly atop rice with a soft-boiled egg and shower of fried shallots and green onions; pan-griddled pork buns swimming in lick-the-bowl-clean chili vinaigrette; and ramen-like danzi noodles bobbling in soy-based broth and fortified with ham and seafood. Don’t forget the umami-packed, marinated cucumbers with bottarga, and do order fly’s head — a ground pork dish stippled with fermented beans, Thai chili and garlic chives. 

Make fast tracks to Hometown Bar-B-Que in Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood for some of the city’s best Texas-style barbecue. The casual, counter-serve spot keeps it classic with baby back ribs, behemoth beef ribs, and smoked brisket. Of course, you wouldn’t be alone in ordering the lamb belly banh mi, sausage with peppers and provolone, or the pork belly tacos from the hardwood-scented spot. 

Chef and Founder David Chang’s East Village Momofuku Noodle Bar is as popular as ever. Its steamed, savory-sweet, hoisin-slathered pork belly bun topped with cucumbers and scallions remains a pitch-perfect, hand-held meal. Nearly as fine are is the smoked pork belly ramen, the Korean fried chicken, the chilled spicy noodles with Sichuan sausage and, well, the list goes on. 

Appetizing shops — stores that sell dairy products and fish, like lox — are a New York tradition that was started in the late 1800s. Jewish immigrants. Russ & Daughters carries on this unique culinary tradition as a purveyor of immaculate smoked fish, caviar, baked goods and specialty foods. What to order? Their bagel sandwich with whitefish and baked salmon salad, horseradish-dill cream cheese and wasabi flying fish roe is simply amazing. 

The best burger in NYC? Let’s just say that among city-dwellers in the know it comes down to a four-way tie. On the fancier side, there’s Minetta Tavern in Manhattan’s West Village once frequented by literary luminaries such as Ernest Hemingway, Eugene O’Neill, and e.e. cummings. Others insist that Jackson Hole in Queens does burgers best. Then there’s the old-school Corner Bistro in the West Village, and last, but not least, the amazing burgers cooked on a well-used grill at one of NYC’s oldest continuously operating gay bars, Julius’ on West 10 Street. 

Let’s also give honorable mentions to P.J. Clarke’s in Midtown, Duffy’s Tavern on Staten Island, Red Hook Tavern in Brooklyn, and Bronx Ale House.  

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Locally Loved New York Coffee Shops

Of course there are still places like Sarge’s in Manhattan and the Island Coffee Shop on Staten Island; however, the definition of “coffee shop” is changing rapidly in NYC. The traditional Naugahyde booths and short order comfort food are quickly being replaced by more sophisticated venues that often function as extensions of the workplace. Here’s a sampling of the best of this new breed. 

Feel like hanging out with your laptop in a space that bears more than a passing resemblance to one of those coworking setups? Brooklyn’s Freehold  in trendy Williamsburg certainly fills the bill. In addition to the cafe itself, you’ll also have outdoor and loft space to settle into. Hang out later in the day and you’ll find it transforms into a lively bar scene.  

With delicious muffins, pastries, sandwiches, vegan snacks and of course, coffee, The Bean epitomizes the 21st -century coffee shop scene. On any given day, you’ll be surrounded by freelancers and entrepreneurs Zoom-ing away, parents stopping by for healthy, kid-friendly treats and locals who’ve made it part of their daily routine.  All four locations in downtown Manhattan are open till midnight – but you may have to jostle a bit to find a seat.   

‍Six locations scattered across Brooklyn and Manhattan are just one way Variety Coffee lives up to its name. Their menu includes unique coffee roasts and their decor is comfortable and inviting — perfect for polishing off that PowerPoint. 

Prince Coffee House has 21st -century coffee house chic locked down. Aside from amazing lighter fare and coffee-based concoctions, it’s right in the middle of the neighborhood’s best shops, bakeries and restaurants — with the Botanical Gardens just a stone’s throw away. 

Ridgewood, Queens, is home to one of the best coffee shops in the boroughs. Milk and Pull is full of homey charm, hanging plants and hardwood floors. Its bagels are right up to par with the best in the city – and there’s a fantastic selection of coffees and teas to enjoy. Even better, they have a big community table where you can spread out your stuff and get down to business.  

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New York Nightlife Happy Hour Haunts and Nightlife

From renowned venues and concert halls to subterranean lounges, hidden speakeasies, dive bars and cabarets, New York City’s nightlife is second to none. We’ll give our regards to Broadway, Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall and Madison Square Garden at another time. For New Yorkers looking for something more accessible and spontaneous, these spots have something to match whatever your mood you happen to be in. 

Dive Bar 

A rough and tumble Chelsea watering hole, dark, dirt-cheap Billymark’s is a Champagne of Beers and generous-pour sort of joint. Beckoning passersby from its mailbox-hued facade, the wee-hours taproom features the requisites: a jukebox, pool table, neon signs and posters of old westerns. 

Speakeasy 

Angel’s Share is an “open secret” in East Village. Find the unmarked access through the second-story Japanese izakaya Village Yokocho. Adding to its air of exclusivity, there’s a no-standing policy and a group-size-limit of four. Once inside the date-friendly space, crisply attired bartenders proffer rare spirits and Japanese takes on Prohibition cocktails, like the yuzu and shiso-laced Flirtibird. Nearby, you’ll find a speakeasy sibling upstairs at Sharaku. 

Rooftop Bar 

Much like the Miami original, whimsical, handcrafted libations reign at Broken Shaker on Lexington Avenue in Manhattan. Perched on the 18th-floor terrace of the Freehand New York, the rooftop oasis offers sweeping city views. Enjoy them over tropically tinged bites and creative bevs, like the Cocoa Puff Old Fashion and papaya-peppercorn spiked Jake the Snake. 

Nightclub 

Elsewhere, a Bushwick institution is equal parts live music venue, nightclub and courtyard art gallery. Featuring multiple performance spaces, a rooftop bar with a stage, and a loft-like lounge, it hosts everything from dance parties to cook-outs, film screenings and drawing parties. 

Lounge 

Offering one of the best mixology programs in NYC, Dead Rabbit features a downstairs taproom and low-lit lounge upstairs. Start with a perfectly poured pint on the lower level, later ascending to the upper-level parlor, where peerless sips include the Sherry Cobbler and the Smokin’ AppleJack Hot Toddy. There’s also live jazz weekly. 

Beer Bar 

A minimalist, modernist space for sipping suds, Greenpoint Brooklyn’s Tørst — Danish for “thirst”— features two-dozen oft-rotating, temperature-regulated taps. Owned by Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø, the guy behind Danish gypsy brewery Evil Twin, it serves no wine and no spirits, leaving it to curate a selection of rare and cult-favorite brews. 

Piano Bar  

Set in a former brothel dating to the 1850s, the cash-only West Village institution Marie’s Crisis is where habitués sing show tunes from “Sound of Music” to Sondheim. Offering an old-school NYC experience with a communal spirit, the piano bar gathers locals and tourists around the keys for rowdy fun, cheap drinks and a good, old fashioned Broadway score. 

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Hidden Gems in New York

We’re not focusing on the overcrowded touristy spots (any online guide will give you this info) or Midtown Manhattan in general (you’ll soon understand why). That being said, here are some experiences well worth checking out: 

Think beyond the Great White Way for edgier (and cheaper) theatrical experiences at places like the Lucille Lortel Theatre and La MAMA in Manhattan, BAM in Brooklyn, and countless other venues. Free Shakespeare in the Park is a treat, too. 

Instead of Museum Mile, head to the Zen-like Noguchi Museum in Long Island City, Queens. The Transit Museum in downtown Brooklyn is perfect for kids who’d be restless visiting the Met or MoMA. 
 
Feeling like some local refreshment? Try an “Only in New York” institution: the egg cream. they contain neither eggs nor cream (they’re made with seltzer and chocolate/vanilla syrup). Get Stella at Ray’s Candy Store in Manhattan’s East Village to whip you up a classic “black and white.”   

Put on something nice, head over to the super-elegant St. Regis Hotel in Midtown Manhattan and pony up to the King Cole Bar, sit under the Maxfield Parrish mural, and order their (quite pricey) Bloody Mary. It’s worth it (after all they invented this brunch staple)! 

On the top of the freebie list is the famous Staten Island Ferry. It’s the best way to see the Statue of Liberty aside from actually going there. And St. George — on the Staten Island side — is an up and coming neighborhood. 

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Getting Around in New York

With the (major) exception of Staten Island, New York City is not a car-friendly place. Gas and garage parking are wickedly expensive, on-street parking is dicey at best, and then there’s the TRAFFIC. Using a car here is like having a sprained ankle: you can do it. But it’s awkward. Slow. And painful. 

Thankfully, New York (again with the exception of Staten Island) gets around on mass transit. Commit to breaking the car habit and you’ll be on your way in no time! 

Subway 

Ah, the MTA Subway – a miracle and sort of a mishmash at the same time. It’s the oldest and largest subway system in the US, and in spite of everything, still the quickest way to get where you want to go. Some of the stations (like Astor Place, the Oculus, and the entire Second Avenue Line) are incredibly beautiful. And for less than three bucks you can go anywhere there’s a station — it’s a great deal!  

We’d give you a rundown of the lines, but because today’s system is the result of a merger between the old Interborough Rapid Transit (IRT), Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit (BMT), and Independent (IND) subway systems, there are currently 28 different train services crisscrossing between the boroughs. Instead, here’s a map to help you navigate it all.   

Rail  

Getting in or out of the city is easy thanks to two major rails stations. Grand Central Terminal takes care of regional traffic in and out of the city via Metro North. Penn Station is the go-to for nationwide rail service via AMTRAK, commutes to the Garden State on New Jersey Transit, and journeys to Long Island and the Hamptons on the Long Island Rail Road.  

Bus 

Like the subway system, the MTA’s above-ground network is vast: 234 local, 71 express, and 20 select bus service routes. The select buses (which make limited stops) have greatly improved service in congested areas –— and non-MTA commuter buses are a must for some of the more far-flung sections of the boroughs. They’re also the best mass transit option for mobility-impaired individuals to get around easily. Here’s more info

Online  

Uber, Lyft, Via… you know the drill.  

Taxi 

Yellow cabs are an adventure in themselves. And the new green cabs (they’re lime-colored) provide service to the outer boroughs. If the light on top is lit, you’re free to hail it. They all take credit cards. You can also download the Curbed app it you want a taxi without raising your hand. 

Water Taxi  

More of a tourist thing, but if you must, New York Water Taxi offers services mainly to points along the East River and Hudson River. 

Cars and Limos 

There are hundreds of choices here, but the easiest to remember are Dial 7 (212-777-7777 and Carmel Limo (212-666-6666). Both offer online reservations as well. 

Biking  

If you don’t have your own, racks of CitiBikes seem to be on every other corner. It’s $179 per year for an unlimited membership. 

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Looking for more ways to immerse yourself in New York City or others states and cities? Be sure to check out our blog for ideas that will help you settle in and start feeling like a local.  

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